Fayette County Sunday

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Not my mountain view, but if I close my eyes...

Not my mountain view, but if I close my eyes…

Is it just me or is the sight of a shadow of a cloud passing over the mountains one of the coolest things to see?

It’s perfect on a relaxing Sunday afternoon when you’re outside just watching the world go by.  Or at least this little part of it here in Fayette County.  The county fair has wrapped up so people aren’t out and about as much as they were through the week and are probably napping off ten- thousand or so calories of fried foods that they took in over the past few days.

Though plenty of people were out shopping today when I needed to be out there.  But that’s always the case when I’m trying to get anything done.  You think you’ve seen a Wal-Mart checkout line go slow?  You haven’t seen nothing ’till I’ve picked a line.  Out-of-date coupons, writing a check to pay for half of the order without a pen, searching for change from the bottom of a ten-gallon purse…?  Whoever is in front of me is guaranteed to do that and more.

People are still wearing their county fair kind of outfits out there too – plenty of camouflage (in hat, shirt, shorts and shoes options), muscle shirts with some version of the American flag, and one guy who’s torn and stained t-shirt read “Out Drinking Moonshine”.  Ahh, Fayette County, I don’t get you at all, but I love you anyway…  After all, where else can you watch an 85-year old man cruise up and down the streets of the neighborhood on his motorized wheelchair with his grandson on his lap acting like they’re in a go-cart and moving faster than half the cars that are going by?  And where else can you see people in short-shorts, knee-length black dress socks and a pair of brightly colored Crocs out for lunch at a downtown restaurant acting like they dressed up for the occasion?  No, I’m not judging, I’m just enjoying all of the local color.  It makes life more interesting.

I’m not sure how Graham (the cat who thinks like a dog) is adjusting to this area of the country so far either.  He’s a cold-weather boy by birth and hasn’t made many friends since leaving “his people” back in Minnesota.  He gets along well with a 20-25 pound groundhog who lives just at the edge of our yard – they seem to have built some mutual respect there somehow – but any other animal he sees he just takes as a threat.  The other day we were outside when one of the neighbors came walking by with her large golden retriever and stopped to talk.  And, seeing Romeo step just one paw into our yard, Graham came running over, punched him in the nose and stood in front of him growling.  This is MY turf.  

I’ve seen feral cats running for the woods like their tail was on fire, with an orange and white blur chasing them until they passed out of the range of our yard and Graham trotting back to the front walk with a smug look of success on his face.  And, just the other day a huge Rottweiler came into the yard barking his head off and Graham just walked up to him with an incredulous look on his face like You really want a piece of me?  

I think that 90-100 pound dog was just a bit out of Graham’s weight class so I had to pick him up and carry him in.  And I think he’s still a bit bitter at me doubting his skills…

what are YOU lookin' at?

what are YOU lookin’ at?

So we each have our own way of adapting to a new area I guess.  I write and he plays neighborhood watch (or neighborhood bully – I’m not sure which one).  I haven’t been here long enough for Fayette County to make it into the writing, but it’s got enough unique characters around to inspire some stories.  And, as if to prove my point on what I thought was going to be a quiet afternoon, remember that grandpa from down the street?  He just got into a race with a couple of kids in a golf cart and I’m putting my money down on the old man if there are any takers out there…

Represent Me, Publish Me, Love Me…

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I’ve never been all that great with setting deadlines for myself.  I’m too stubborn and I know myself too well.  So I don’t want to set myself up for disappointing myself.  Make sense?

But…throughout the rest of this week, I have a job to do.  It’s time to write out the query letter that I’m going to send out to potential agents.  You know, the letter that tells prospective agents ‘please read me, please love me and validate me, please tell me that I’m a good writer and please drop everything else on your plate to get me published’.  Ahh, selling myself and my work through barely disguised begging, and having it done by the end of the day on Saturday.  Now this project should be fun…

I wonder how many rough drafts it will take to attempt to describe my novel in a way that I’m ultimately happy with.  To take an 80,000 word book (that I’ve been re-working for months and months) and make it sound like the next best seller in a 200-300 word description, well…lets just say that I’m not expecting it to be easy.  I’d like it to stand out and seem amazing but, by the end of the week when it’s time to send it out, I might settle just for the final result not to be passed out among the agents’ office peers as a “look at what this schmuck sent to me” example.  After all, I want to entertain people, but not exactly in that way…

I guess I could ask those people who have read the novel for their opinions, but, well…since I moved here to Fayette County, I’m kind of missing that aspect of the writing process.  I’m missing those people who read through a few chapters at a time, give me their opinion and ask “But then what happens?”  So I’m settling for writing my own description about my own book which, if it sounds like that really shouldn’t be that difficult, it at least explains why I was fired from the only sales job that I ever had.  Okay, sure, it was selling magazine subscriptions over the phone while I was back in school, but who really wants to wake people up on a Saturday morning to try to sell them a 2-year subscription to Newsweek or Photography Today?  My one and only job review came with this criticism – “You always sound surprised when people buy something from you”.  And my response?  “Surprised?  I’m in flipping shock!”.

But I digress…

I believe in my novel way more than I believed in 12 issues of Better Homes and Gardens.  I’d just love it if the process of submitting it didn’t involve jumping through hoops and praising my work and could just have them read it and decide for themselves.  But…I guess the work will all be worth it first when I see it in print on the bookshelf and then…when I see the movie version up on the big screen…?  See agents and editors?  I do believe in it!

I think I just need to hire an assistant to do the dirty work of writing up those letters for me and kindly shredding all of the rejection letters when they come back.  Someone who will tell me the ones who rejected it are idiots anyway.  And will then ask me “But then what happens…?”



Any Resemblance to Actual Persons is Purely Coincidental

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The problem with writing a novel that’s realistic instead of being a murder mystery, or sci-fi or fantasy or anything else, is that people who read it are going to think that they’re actually in it.

There’s a reason why novels have some version of a disclaimer on the copyright page stating that it’s a work of fiction and that names, places, events, yada yada, are imaginary or used in a fictitious manner.   There’s some version of that idea written to make it clear that it’s pretty much everything that you’re going to be reading is all made up.  Sure…  Even the completely made up stuff is inspired by our less boring moments of reality though.

So I wonder…  Who’s going to be the first person to ask me “Is so-and-so based on me?” when they read my novel.  Sure. My main character has a dad, so is that dad character based on my dad?  The main character has siblings, so are they based on mine?  Are the ex-girlfriends based on my ex-girlfriends?  And on and on…

None of the characters’ names in the book are the same as anyone in my life.  I’m not going to say that “names were changed to protect the innocent” though because, after all, anyone from my life who’s been completely innocent would be far too dull to make it into the pages of the novel.  And what fun would that be?  So don’t be looking through the pages for your name.  If you’re in there, your name isn’t going to be typed out on a single page.

And, thinking of pages, on my bookshelf there are a number of books that have little scraps of paper sticking out of the top, marking the pages that have lines I really want to remember, lines that inspire me and lines that remind me just why I write.  One of the marked sections I pulled out this week highlights a line in The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper (one of my all-time favorite books and one that I very highly recommend if you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet) and it says:

Everyone always wants to know how you can tell when it’s true love, and the answer is this: when the pain doesn’t fade and the scars don’t heal, and it’s too damned late.

And I find that line pretty much sums up the concept of my novel.  Well, one of the major storylines contained in my novel anyway.  And it fits the overall style that I use when I’m writing.  It’s a lot like Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.  Both authors – Hornby and Tropper – write the ‘male confessional’ kind of book and I’d say that mine fits into that general mold as well.

But the dangerous thing about that is having everyone try to figure out how much of the “confessional” is true, and where they figure into the story.  Because if the main character is telling you about his life, his feelings, his secrets and all of the good stuff, it’s just more fun if you expect that there’s some truth buried deep inside.

So where is that truth?  I’m not telling you.  If you’re located somewhere in those 300 plus pages (under an assumed name of course because you – like me – aren’t at all innocent), you can probably figure it out for yourself.  And that’s where the fun of reading begins.  Right? 😀

Drawing Dinosaurs

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As I’ve been spending a lot of time going through the book giveaways I’ve received lately, I came across one that can supposedly teach me how to ‘Draw People in 15 Minutes or Less’.  I’m not sure if my end result after those 15 minutes would actually resemble my less than complete willing models, or if those subjects I selected would be flattered by my attempt or just insulted by the sight of the final product, but I guess an ugly drawn person is still a drawn person.  So the author would still be technically correct, right? Because I drew a person in 15 minutes (or probably much less ’cause my attention span is…oh, a squirrel!,).

But, more important than the lesson it thought me about my lack of artistic talent, that book reminded me of another one from years ago…

Back when I was a kid, we went to the library each week during the school year (and probably at least twice a week during the summer).  Sure, it was probably just a plan conceived to get us out of the house and keep us out of trouble for a few hours (me more than my sisters of course), but we loved it and I always came home with a big stack of books to try and get through before it was time to go back and find some new ones.  At least until this one time when, as a 7-year-old, I made it onto the library’s banned list.  Yep, I started my life as a trouble maker young…

According to ‘the system’, and what ‘the man’ told me (through their 68-year old woman representative behind the desk), I had never returned one of the books I’d checked out and it was now overdue.  No new books for me until it was returned.

“I returned it,” I told my dad.

“I know I returned it,” I told my mom.

“I’m 100% certain I returned it,” I told both parents.

“Shut up,” I told my sisters for what I assume was a good reason.

I had no doubt whatsoever that the library was wrong, that they had it somewhere in the back and were blaming me for a crime that I didn’t commit and enjoying my emotional pain.  Weeks went by.  Months went by.  $1.24 in late fees accumulated.  And, completely against my 7-year-old wishes, my parents went to the library’s front desk and paid for the book.

I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe my parents’ lack of belief in me and their lack of willingness to fight the system on my behalf.  It was disturbing but, then again, at least I was allowed my previous library rights and the librarians treated me as if nothing had ever happened.  But my faith in my parents was still shaken.  So much so that when, two years later, I found the book behind my dresser, I was tempted not even to tell them about it.

So a thin, orange hardcover book showing me just how to draw the 40 top styles of dinosaurs that everyone would want to see was now mine.  Permanently.  It was bought and paid for.  But, due to the immense amount of 7-year-old shame attached to the find of that book, I don’t believe that I ever opened it up again.

Now, if I try to draw a dinosaur, it pretty much looks like a couch with arms.  So owning the book for all these years hasn’t helped me one bit.  And, opening it up and re-reading it now won’t help because…well…I’ve lost it again.  And I’ve even looked behind the dresser this time.


Just One of Those Days

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I need a drink.

I don’t usually say that but it’s just been one of those days.  And, I guess I have been slacking a bit on the ‘beer’ part of “Books, Beer and Bigfoot”, right?  So it’s about time.

Now I’m usually a positive person.  An optimist even.  Someone who sees life as wonderful and not dependent on the things that are happening at the moment.  At least I think so.  And if you disagree, feel free to write me a comment and I’ll feel free to completely ignore it.  Happily.  And with a smile on my face.

But some days….  They just make you regret all the choices that you made throughout the day (like waking up, getting out of bed, leaving the house, etc.).  Days that could have been spent on the couch eating Cookie Crisp out of the box and playing PlayStation and avoiding things like adult responsibility, appointments and the world as a whole and it could have felt way more positive and productive.  So it’s a day when it’s just mandatory to stop at a certain store on the way home.

Now, since I moved across country to Fayette County, the “right” choices aren’t exactly available.  My beer of choice isn’t sold in the area.  Heck, the guy at the counter has never even heard of it.  And that’s one of the signs that you’re not in Kansas any more, so to speak.  So that definitely contributes to making you feel a bit more out of place on a rough day.  But you deal with it and take what you can get.

What I purchased would go well in front of a campfire, but it’s too hot and humid out there and the gnats keep flying up my nose every time that I go outside.  Yeah, you know it’s been one of those days when even the gnats are conspiring against you with their suicidal runs up each of your nostrils.  Sheesh.

Can you tell that I just want to complain?  It’s one of those days when I’m tempted to write and rip on Wendy Bell’s lawsuit (it’s a Pittsburgh area thing if you’re curious) or politics or LeBron James or Just anything that will get my heart racing and my sarcasm flowing.  But it’s just a day.  That’s all.  After a little complaining the beer will be nice and cold, the sun will be down, Bigfoot will be roaming up in the hills and all will be right with the world again.  Or at least enough of it for another day…

At Least The Mountains Have Rain

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Who needs silverware...?

Who needs silverware…?

It’s like living in a B movie science fiction flick. The cicadas that have taken over all of the trees on every side of the house are making a noise that sounds like a cheap ray-gun buzzing.  I feel like I’m under attack whenever I leave the house.  Though, if you look at it in the right way, you can feel like the hero of your very own adventure, surviving the dash to the car and making the gravel fly as you hit the gas and gun it to safety.  Hmm…or maybe that’s just me…

It was supposed to rain all day today – a wet, grey day perfect for staying inside and writing.  But…the forecast was off yet again (where’s Ginger Zee when you need her?).  There were flash flood warnings half an hour north of here, and pea-sized hail ten minutes to the south.  And then there was constant thunder rolling in the mountains fifteen minutes to the east.  But here…?  Bright and sunny with 65% humidity.  It’s like being imprisoned in a dome when you can see the rain in the distance in every direction, but have to keep taking the cat out and sweat because it’s summertime without the gentle breeze coming in off the coast because southwestern PA is completely missing those beautiful beaches.

It’s not that I’m anti-summer.  Not at all.  Sure, it comes in behind fall in my own personal ranking system.  And behind spring too.  And I guess it falls behind winter too.  But summer is still in the top four in the “Best Seasons” category. All I ask is for the occasional rain to hit the yard before the grass turns brown and all of the birds decide that thy didn’t fly far enough north this year.

But maybe it’s just that I’m a fan of the rain…  There’s something cathartic about losing yourself in the writing of a book while water drops continually smack against the windows.  Plus, when the sun is shining brightly, I can barely see the screen of my laptop until after 1:30 in the afternoon when the sun has passed overhead and out of view of my office.  So that gives me too big of an excuse to find something else to do instead of write for that time.  (Like I have A&E’s new show Preacher on DVR and haven’t gotten around to watching it yet).  Wow…excuses are easy to find/create aren’t they…?

But the sun has gone down now, the air conditioning has the inside temperature down to 68 degrees, the laptop is fully charged, Graham has had a snack and is taking a nap, and I’ve run out of excuses.

So I’m opening up Word, pulling up my rough draft, and diving into chapter 42.  And, wouldn’t you know it?  It takes place on a hot, summer day.  Maybe I’ll have the main character borrow a friend’s boat and let him deal with his issues out on the lake.  Ahh…I love being in control…

Books, Books and Way More Books

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Just out of curiosity, I decided to see how many books I’ve received in the mail over the last year or so with the expectation that I would complete an on-line review for them.  I knew that it had been getting slightly out of control, but I didn’t realize that I’d actually received 172 different physical copies of books.  Everything from huge hardcover “coffee-table” books to regular sized softcovers to graphic novels to short, self-published novellas, a couple of children’s picture books, and even books of poetry have been shipped to the house with the hope that I’ll first read it, then love it, then post a wonderful review on-line praising the brilliance and immense talent of the author.  And I’d love to.  Really I would.  But…

Where’s the time?

Of course I ask that while I’m reading a Christopher Moore novel that I’ve probably read at least five times already (plus I paid full price for it when it came out too).  So maybe blaming a lack of time really isn’t the best excuse.  It’s just one of many.

Some books are just obviously not designed for me.

For example…  I’m probably not going to read any of the half dozen romance novels that I’ve received (though who really knows what could happen on a rainy weekend afternoon prior to the start of the football season).  And then there are those days when I open up a FedEx package to find Part 3 of a writer’s trilogy.  So I already have no idea what’s going on in the story before I would read the first sentence.  So I think I’ll pass…

And then, they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but wow…  Sometimes you actually can.  Actually, every time that I receive one (and I’m probably up to 4-5 arriving each week now) I completely judge it by its cover.  And a slick, well designed cover and a logo from an established publishing house wins out over a hand-drawn cover (some looking like they were done in crayon) of a self-published book every time.  Sorry.  Maybe I’m a bit shallow.  But I’m okay with that.  I support the independent authors out there, but you’ve got to put in a little work…

And then there’s the font.  If you’re doing it yourself and don’t have a publisher, at least use a point that makes the inside look professional, and not like a high school ‘D’ average student’s term paper.  Sure I’m picky.  But I’ve got 171 other books vying for my attention.

Earlier this week I received a hard cover novel of about 650 pages shipped to me from an author in Australia.  The cover looks great, the story description looks interesting, and there are author endorsements on the back cover.  But…maybe more importantly, the author spent $40 in postage to mail it to me.  So I feel a bit indebted to him and am putting the one next on my list to read.  It just seems fair.

Oh, who am I kidding…?  It’s all about the cover.  It just looks cool enough to read.  Once I finish the one I’m re-reading now anyway…

Where’s My Fence?

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In his poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost coined the phrase “Good fences make good neighbors”.  And it’s a phrase that I’m sure we’ve all considered at one time or another.  Frost’s speaker in the poem doesn’t seem to completely understand the phrase, or agree with his neighbor about the sentiment, but he does go along with the yearly ritual of mending the fences in springtime along with his neighbor to keep them in good repair.

Now here in my little part of Fayette County, I’m not sure if my neighbors and I need some fences or if it’s already too late. Is there anything that we need to keep separate or do we already know each others’ quirks and unique behaviors well enough that a little extra privacy no longer matters?  Since we’ve seen it all – or at least enough of all of it – do we need fences to keep the few remaining secrets in?

For example, there’s the neighbor who only smokes after his wife has left the house, standing outside on the walkway to their front door taking puffs with a satisfied look on his face.  He throws the cigarette butts out into the bushes where he believes his wife will never see them and collects them all up on Saturday when he mows the lawn.

Then there’s the guy down the street who cruises up and down the lane in his golf cart with a proud grin on his face each day, while his grandchildren zip back and forth in that same golf cart, usually on the wrong side of the road, whenever he’s taking a nap or loses track of the keys.

And, if there was a fence in the way, I’d miss out on most of the long, loud run my 20-year-old neighbor takes on his Yamaha motorcycle, certain that we want to see his bravery and coolness(?) each day as he revs the engine up loud and dashes up the street, certain that no traffic will be coming the other direction as he crests the hill.  Not today anyway.

And then of course there’s me…  I wouldn’t consider myself to be completely boring and uninteresting to the outside viewer either.  For example, last week I was sick.  As in pneumonia and coughing-up-a-lung kind of sick.  And of course I’m too stubborn to let that get in the way of anything that I would regularly do.  So, in the evenings when it was time to take the cat out for a walk (something abnormal enough in its own way I’m sure), this time I wore a mask to keep me from breathing the cool air into my lungs.

So as sunset passed us by here in our neighborhood, and Graham felt more inclined to wander in larger loops around the house and into neighboring – non-fenced in – yards, it wasn’t all that unusual to see me wandering in the dark, mask covering my face and the flashlight app on my phone illuminating the bushes under windows looking for the cat.  And, somehow, none of my neighbors either called the police on me or confronted me with a gun in their hand.

I believe that means that my absurdity has been understood and tolerated throughout the neighborhood.  That they’ve been able to see my eccentricities without the challenge of a wall in the way and have decided to accept them.  And I’m one of them.  Well, either that or we need a better quality neighborhood watch program.

Why Is That Running Through My Head?

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It happened again this morning.  Like it does most mornings after a full night of active dreaming.

I woke with a specific song running through my head.  It was one that I hadn’t heard in forever, but it had played a role in my dream for some odd reason.  This time it was that old 80’s song St. Elmo’s Fire.  I’m sure you know it, even if you don’t recognize the title.  Just pull it up on iTunes and you’ll have it stuck in your head for at least the next fifteen minutes.  You’re welcome.

My mind just keys on music.  It’s the way I’m hard-wired.  Songs pop into my head, and people, places and events are linked with music.  And even – apparently – my dreams.

Graham has songs that are “his” songs, and they have been for years.  Low Rider by War is one that fit him from day one.  And his kitten attitude earned him the song Breaking Dishes by Rihanna.  That one was given to him by someone else, as I couldn’t say that I’d heard the song at the time, but I understood the fit.

I’ve been starting every chapter of my novel with a song quote that somehow fits with the tone and/or attitude of that section and matches what the character in the chapter is going through.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s amazing how much time you can waste when you’re sifting through songs as “research”.  And how many different roads those songs can lead you down…

Someday, my publisher might throw all of those quotes out, telling me that paying for the rights aren’t anywhere near worth it, but we’ll see.  Because they’re emotionally necessary.  Of course I say that now, but if I’m struggling to find exactly the right fit for the beginnings of 48 separate chapters and that’s what is slowing down the process, I might have to re-think the idea.  But I have faith that I can work it out.

But then there’s the problem of the songs that don’t fit the novel…

I listened to Losers by The Belle Brigade today (I’ll be shocked if you know that one but you should check it out), and, the complete story of another novel popped into my head.  I know just how it would work from beginning to end, and I think it would be funny yet bitter and a bit painful.  It would have highs and lows and conflict and awkwardness and everything that’s needed in a good story. And I know that I just have to write it because that story is MINE to write (yeah, writers can get a bit possessive of really good ideas that come along).

I just need an editor because my mind bounces from one idea to the next at just a single listening to a song.  I need someone who can take my rough draft, tell me what they think, what works, what doesn’t, what needs to be twerked, reworked, rewritten, added to, toned down, etc. when my mind feels like it’s time to move on to something else.  Someone to inspire me to push through the harder part of the work once the fun of creating the story itself is basically done.

Admitting the problem is the first step, right?  And I can admit that I have that problem. Too many stories fighting to get out, and an attention span that needs a good kick in the hind quarters from someone else who wants to get the story finished and bound within a cool cover that just leaps off the shelf almost as bad as I do.

Because Writer’s Block is never going to be a problem for me.  Even now there’s a song by Thriving Ivory that’s speaking to me.  But I can’t afford to take on another novel idea.  Not until I get out a few of the ones that are already in there before they start to blend together and I write the first Literary/Suspense/Romance/Mystery/Historical/Humor/Young Adult/Political/Thriller novel.  But at least you could follow the plot based on the music quotes I use, right?

I’ve Still Got It (Don’t I?)

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Some days are just so much better than others.  Some days are for staying in bed and avoiding the rest of the world at all costs.  Sure.  Those happen.  They’re usually referred to as weekdays.  But then some days are for singing at the top of your lungs in the car and not worrying about the person next to you at the stop light staring at you with a smirk on his face.  And this is coming from the guy who was massively embarrassed to be voted “Most Easily Embarassed” in high school…  Ironic, huh?  But when the German version of Nina’s 99 Luftballons comes on, you just have to sing along, even if you don’t know a stitch of German and are just making random noises until the chorus comes back around.

I’m a pretty impressive dancer too, as long as I’m not observed and I stay seated.  So I guess you could call me a double threat when I’m driving.  A triple threat if you add in my driving skills.

A number of years ago (you know…once upon a time…) I went out with some co-workers on a Friday night, thinking we were just going to hang out at a bar, have a few drinks, listen to some music and recover from a long week.  However… (You know what?  If I ever have a biography written about my life, that’s going to be the title.  However…  I think it fits perfectly.)

But back to the point…  Instead of a relaxing night out, I was being set up with a friend of a friend.  It happens.  People try to set their friends up and see what crazy thing happens.  It’s usually painful and awkward for those involved.  But at least it makes for some great stories.  And, in this case, that’s all it made for.

The club we went to was loud and packed, but somehow we managed to luck into a table where we could sit and comfortably watch the people around us.  Or so I thought… When a few of our group got up and headed over to the dance floor, my “date” took my hand and pulled me along with them.  And, on our way, she leaned in close and whispered a frightening phrase in my ear…  “I hate guys that can’t dance.”  No pressure, right?

The rest of the night was pretty much a blur.  Of course that might be for the best.  We were out there on the dance floor for a while and she didn’t ditch me so I must have done all right.  I don’t remember bumping into too many people, or smacking anyone with an arm that flailed out in a move that was uniquely all my own.  So we’ll call it a success.

There was no follow up date (though that was a mutual decision that I believe had nothing to do with my moves).  She could have been jealous of my skills…  You never know.  I’ve just got to have confidence, let loose and who cares what anyone thinks.  After all, AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long just came on.  And I’m gong to belt it out, even if the window is rolled down and everyone can see and hear me at every stoplight along the way.  Because life’s way too short to hold in your swag…